German Marshall Fund of the United States and Ecologic Institute hosted a
seminar on transatlantic issues surrounding the governance of the Arctic on
21 April 2009 in Washington DC. Speakers from government and academia outlined
the geopolitical context in the Arctic and opportunities for cooperation
on issues such as environmental security and ecosystem-based management.
GMF website of the event including audio podcasts
Climate change is occurring more rapidly
in the Arctic than in any other region of the world, with sea ice
retreating at a pace exceeding even the most dramatic predictions
of scientists. Access to newly opened waters is creating new economic
opportunities for the fishing, energy, shipping, and tourism industries,
which are expected to expand in both scope and intensity. The increased
activity in the Arctic marine area will require effective policies
and international cooperation if the world hopes to protect fragile
Arctic ecosystems and safeguard the rights and interests of indigenous
peoples. According to most Arctic experts, the current governance
framework is inadequate and must be strengthened to handle the new
and uncertain changes underway in the region.
There was general agreement from government representatives US Ambassador David
Balton and Norwegian Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Aud Kolberg that the existing legal
framework in the Arctic is sufficient, and that the Arctic Council is the appropriate
fora to prevent conflict and develop strategies for the region. However, both also stated
that new rules and policies may be needed to address emerging issues related to i.a.
shipping, fisheries, tourism and search and rescue.
Following the government panel discussion, Ecologic Senior Fellow,
Aaron Best, presented the findings from the European Commission-funded Arctic TRANSFORM project.
He emphasized the importance of identifying possible policy pathways to improved Arctic governance.
This approach encourages flexibility, rather than zeroing in on policy options that tend to be
too binary. The academic panel then highlighted key aspects of the current Arctic governance
debate. Caitlyn Antrim, Executive Director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans
underscored the need to develop a shared vision for Arctic policy and discussed Russia’s
changing geopolitical position resulting from its melting maritime
border. Kenneth Yalowitz, Director of the Dickey Center of International Understanding at
Dartmouth College, argued that the global economic crisis allows “breathing room” to develop
sound policies and increase coordination and co-operation in the Arctic. A key first step is
to develop a permanent secretariat for the Arctic Council. Paul Berkman, Director of the Arctic
Ocean Geopolitics Programme at the University of Cambridge, suggested that the process for co-operation
and decision-making in the Antarctic could serve as a model for the Arctic. He argued that the
Antarctic Treaty itself should be separated from the process that nations have gone through to develop
the treaty, and suggested that lessons from Antarctic would not preclude military presence in the Arctic.
There was agreement among speakers that because natural resources are primarily located within
national EEZs (exclusive economic zones), a key challenge is to balance national sovereignty with
international interests. National policies will play a large role in protecting the shared environment.
For background documents, please visit the Arctic TRANSFORM website.